Why You Can’t Understand Conversation, But You Can Hear Soft Sounds

Woman struggling to hear her husband while camping.

Turning up the volume doesn’t always resolve hearing loss issues. Consider this: Lots of people are capable of hearing very soft sounds, but can’t hear conversations. The reason for this is hearing loss often occurs unevenly. You generally lose particular frequencies but are able to hear others, and that can make voices sound garbled.

Types of Hearing Loss

  • Conductive hearing loss happens when the ear has internal mechanical issues. It could be a congenital structural problem or because of an ear infection or excessive wax buildup. In many circumstances, hearing specialists can treat the underlying condition to improve your hearing, and if required, recommend hearing aids to make up for any remaining hearing loss.
  • Sensorineural hearing loss occurs when the tiny hairs in the inner ear, also known as cilia, are damaged, and this condition is more prevalent. When sound is sensed, it vibrates these hairs which send chemical messages to the auditory nerve to be sent to the brain for interpretation. When these fragile hairs in your inner ear are injured or destroyed, they don’t ever re-grow. This is why the normal aging process is frequently the cause of sensorineural hearing loss. Things like exposure to loud noise, particular medications, and underlying health conditions can also bring about sensorineural hearing loss.

Sensorineural Hearing Loss Symptoms

You might hear a little better if people speak louder to you, but it isn’t going to comprehensively deal with your hearing loss issues. People who have sensorineural hearing loss have difficulty hearing specific sounds, including consonants in speech. This might cause somebody who has hearing loss to the mistaken idea that people around them are mumbling when in fact, they are talking clearly.

The pitch of consonant sounds make them hard to hear for someone experiencing hearing loss. The frequency of sound, or pitch, is calculated in hertz (hz) and the higher pitch of consonants is what makes them harder for some people to hear. For instance, a short “o” registers at 250 to 1,000 Hz, depending on the voice of the person talking. Conversely, consonants like “f” and “s” register at 1,500 to 6,000 Hz. People with sensorineural hearing loss have a hard time processing these higher-pitched sounds due to the damage to their inner ears.

Because of this, simply speaking louder is not always helpful. If you can’t understand some of the letters in a word like “shift,” it won’t make much difference how loudly the other person talks.

How Can Using Hearing Aids Help With This?

Hearing Aids go in your ears helping sound reach your auditory system more directly and eliminating some of the environmental sound you would usually hear. Hearing aids also help you by amplifying the frequencies you can’t hear and balancing that with the frequencies you can hear. This makes what you hear a lot more clear. Modern hearing aids also make it easier to understand speech by blocking some of the unwanted background noise.

The site information is for educational and informational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. To receive personalized advice or treatment, schedule an appointment.